Today was a public holiday ‘down under’. A fleeting chance to soak in what’s left of summer’s warmth. I had three things I wanted to do. To take the 10 o’clock yoga class; to scrub the dust and dead flies from my travel-weary car; and to explore what’s new at the bookshop with a thirty dollar voucher that’s been burning a hole in my pocket since Christmas.
After an hour of yogic tranquility, we had a latte or two, chatted about life’s transitions and took in the mid-morning sun at a nearby cafe. Glowing with fresh energy from either the yoga, the coffee, or both, I returned home with suggestions in mind to go out for lunch, enjoy the day, and sneak into the bookshop before my poor old car reminded me to wash her. But the house was empty. A note on the kitchen bench read: “Gone to the beach…”. A revision to the plan came to mind – cycle to the beach, see what’s up, make reference to my bookshop foray, and suggest I return with a sandwich.
Surprised but, I think, glad to see me, my new plan was well received. After a few minutes sat cross-legged in the sand, discussing sandwich fillings and letting the mild onshore breeze blow warmth up over me, I returned to my steed and pedalled up to the bookshop. With the wind at my back and the sun in my eyes, I was there in no time. Chaining my bike up, I contemplated what I’d buy – a fly fishing manual to aid my travails in luring illusive Australian trout, or a Hemingway tale perhaps to seek inspiration from his own adventures in manhood.
Catching my breath as I passed through the door, I failed to feel the warmth of the sun leave me. I followed my usual trail, past the Moleskin journals at the door, around the new non-fiction hardbacks, past the front desk to the new fiction table. There I found a handful of books I’d not picked up before, but nothing captured my interest that I’d not already bought. So I ambled through to find the angling section. Yet such books proved as illusive as the trout.
Before heading back to Hem, I pondered the Philosophy section. It is not labelled as such, but that is how I have come to know it. This would be the one brief work-based interlude in my day-off. Having picked through its shelves many times, it looked very different at first glance. There were many gleaming new spines on display, and on them were names I’d not expected. On closer inspection, I saw all the old regulars – Michel, Martin, Karl, and others. Assured I was in the right place and they’d not had a reshuffle, my eyes worked there way from left to right, top to bottom. When I saw something new, different and intriguing, I plucked it from the shelf. Beginning with Barthes, his short ‘Mythologies’ musings struck me as something I ought to read. I skimmed through ideas on wrestling and striptease, but returned it to the shelf because for some strange reason it was marked up at twice the price of one of his similar monographs. I guiltily considered reserving it for a later Amazon order.*
Scrolling across the top shelf, I caught a glimpse of Borges’ ‘On Writing’. Two of my favourite things, I thought – reading on deep thinking (although I don’t profess to do so myself) and learning how to write about it. I’d found my theme for this expedition and set off through the shelves in search of texts on being ‘writerly‘. As I alphabetically stumbled upon E.M. Forster’s ‘Aspects of the Novel’, Gay Talese’s collected essays and ‘Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone‘ by Hunter S. Thompson, I realised that the Philosophy section is no longer that, but is the ‘thinking about reading about writing’ section’. They must have seen me coming!
Besides these purchases I found something very work-related that is not worthy of mention here, and I grabbed ‘The Essential Hemingway’ from the H shelf in Fiction as I made for the front desk. The tally went far beyond what my voucher could cover, but it had never been a limit on today’s spend. As my card was swiped, we discussed the sunny day outside and being inside. I remarked though that the bookshop can’t be a bad place to be on a public holiday. And I found no disagreement from the other side of the desk.
As I crossed over the threshold, sliding my ‘sunnies’ from my forehead down to my nose, I was not blinded by the light, but melded back into my day, the warmth never having left me. The sandwiches were bought and I unlocked my bike. Returning headlong through the strengthening onshore wind to the beach, I contemplated my purchases and what binds them. Mixing the classic and the contemporary, I see my reading (and writing) shifting from how to put words on a page into how will those words come together. I’m seeking my style.
And if you’re wondering about the car, she didn’t get washed today. There are two chores I dread: ironing and washing cars. Both will get done next weekend, but why ruin such a splendid day today.